EVERY team needs a little good fortune from time to time, but Scotland appear to have made it the centrepiece of their entire strategy.
Scorers: Scotland - Laidlaw (6 pens); Wales - Hibbard (try), Halfpenny (con, 7 pens)
And they had obviously used up all their reserves against Ireland. Once again, the Scots lost the battle for territory and possession, they lost the try count 1-0 but this time they also lost where it matters most… on the scoreboard.
Richard Hibbert was dubbed overweight by Scott Johnson when the Scotland coach was boss of the Ospreys but the Welsh hooker proved that fat blokes really are jollier than most as the tubby No.2 bulldozed his way over the Scotland line for the only try of the match 22 minutes into the first half. The score came as a direct result of a brilliant line break from winger George North, but it turned out to be the one and only line break of the entire afternoon.
Every other point in the game came from the boot of either Greig Laidlaw, who finished with six penalties, or Leigh Halfpenny, whose 23-point haul came from seven penalties and that one successful conversion. Including a further five missed attempts, the 18 penalty attempts was a world record at Test level.
That was the name of the game and, sorry to say, referee Craig Joubert played a bigger part in this match than many of the players. The game would get underway and, a couple of plays later, the South African would blow his whistle and someone would kick for touch or goal. The game would restart and the same thing would happen again.
It was agony, like being an extra in Groundhog Day with no way to break the vicious cycle.
The game was almost entirely bereft of free-flowing, ball-in-hand attacking rugby, although what little there was came mostly from Wales.
The referee also had a huge impact at the set scrum – from the first one to the very last. The IRB have apparently devised a new procedure for the engagement and, on this evidence, it can’t come soon enough.
The Scots conceded a free kick at the first scrum and they continued to earn the wrath of Joubert for the remainder of the game, not helped by giant lock Richie Gray leaving the field after half an hour with a pulled hamstring. Time and again the Scots were penalised for going early on the engagement and, so often were they warned, the home team can consider themselves fortunate to have kept fifteen men on the field. At one point, poor Ross Ford looked like he might burst into tears of frustration and he would have been joined by half the Murrayfield crowd, who were simply bored to tears by the tomfoolery at the set piece.
So cowed was the Scotland scrum that Wales got the hit on them more often than not, in which case the Scots crumpled and coughed up a penalty for collapsing. It was a lose-lose situation, the Scots simply couldn’t win no matter what they did and scrum guru Massimo Cuttitta has his work cut out to find a way out of the hole the Scots dug for themselves, especially with France next up.
The entire match might have been improved had Joubert gone to his pocket early rather than waiting until the 77th minute of the match when Welsh prop Paul James got his marching orders for an infringement approximately five centimetres from his own try line.
Any neutrals who wandered into the ground to see what all the fuss was about would have seen a dreadful advert for the Six Nations – not that Wales will lose any sleep over that. After going eight games without a win, the men in red have now won five away from home and are one big win away from securing a championship that looked utterly unlikely when they lost the opener to Ireland.
The two teams did their best , ut any excitement generated was due to the tightness of the scoreboard, at least until Wales teased out a second-half lead. Neither side wanted to play too much rugby inside their own half of the field and the result was a kicking fest, pitting Laidlaw and Weir against Phillips and Biggar with all four cancelling each other out. Weir did hoof one clearance kick more or less straight up into the Edinburgh sky and Scotland paid the price by conceding a penalty for not retreating when the ball came down.
Other than that and one horrible misplaced pass, the Scotland stand-off did more than enough to justify his first start. Weir kicked long and accurately and even came closest to scoring a try when his clever little chip and hack ahead made Dan Biggar carry the ball over his own try line. The Scots earned an attacking five metres scrum where, inevitably, they coughed up yet another penalty.
There were precious few attacking opportunities for the Scots, although, in the final five minutes of the game, the home forwards worked up a head of steam and bashed away at the Welsh defence. They were undone by yet another turnover won by Sam Warburton. The newly restored Welsh openside made a triumphant return to the Welsh XV, pilfering ball like a modern day Artful Dodger and thoroughly deserving his man of the match award.
Scotland: Hogg; Maitland, Lamont, Scott, Visser; Weir, Laidlaw; Grant, Ford, Murray, Gray (Kellock 29), Hamilton, Harley, Brown, Beattie.
Wales: Halfpenny; Cuthbert, Davies, Roberts (S Williams 72), North; Biggar, Phillips (L Williams 72); James, Hibbard (Owens 60), A Jones, AW Jones, Evans, R Jones (Tipuric 48), Warburton, Faletau.
Referee: C Joubert (SA). Attendance: 67,144